After Calvin, I went straight into the Ph.D. program in Medieval Studies at Yale University.
I earned my doctorate and accepted a faculty position at Dordt College.
Why did you decide to major in history at Calvin?
My choice to major in history was not immediate.
I came into college thinking I wanted to be a medical doctor, but by October of my freshman year, I realized that just wasn’t going to happen. I spent my interim trying to figure out what I wanted to study. A part of me had always known that I wanted to major in English (which I did), but something didn’t sit right. I didn’t want to be a high school English teacher, and I didn’t think reading great literature alone was what I really craved. I’m not sure why, but that month I decided to read the Canterbury Tales in Middle English (perhaps I wanted to read the great works chronologically?). As I was reading them, I quickly discovered that reading and thinking about this sort of thing was what I wanted to do. And then it hit me smack in the face: I loved books written long ago or that took place long ago; in short, I loved history! Of course, I should major in European history!
History was consistently my best subject in school and I had always loved it. I knew, however, that I also loved literature and that I wanted to study the two together. I decided to test my hypothesis by taking History 151 at the same time that I took English 210. I really enjoyed both classes. Prof. Frans van Liere, who taught History 151, showed so much enthusiasm for the subject that he not only clinched my decision to major in history, but he also drew me toward studying the Middle Ages in particular.
How did your time in at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?
My time at Calvin, both in general and within the history department, prepared me well for graduate school. I was instilled with a love of learning and desire to live the life of the mind. I learned to write and speak well; I learned to find connections between multiple disciplines; I learned perseverance, integrity, and honesty. Most importantly, I learned the value of being a well-rounded person. Rather than simply judging myself and others on the basis of publications and academic honors, I’ve learned that things like devoting oneself to teaching or university service; being a good parent, spouse, or friend; doing community service; and cultivating one’s other talents are all of great value. It’s been very hard to keep this in mind in an environment like Yale Graduate School; I can’t imagine where I’d be without the foundation that Calvin provided.
What are some of your memories of the Calvin History Department?
My memories of the Calvin History Department are many and varied. My professors were enthusiastic about their subjects: I remember Jim Bratt impersonating George Whitefield during his class on the Great Awakening, with the result that I’ve never forgotten who Whitefield was (something that impresses my Americanist friends). Again, I remember Prof. van Liere performing a few “creative archaeology” experiments, including making bone ice skates (a great success) and making mead (a horrible, sticky disaster all over the kitchen floor). Most of all, I remember how helpful every one of my professors were in offering to read drafts, being regularly available for office hours, allowing me to do tutorials, lending me books, and helping me with the graduate school application process. In fact, many of them have continued to be helpful as I begin my career, giving advice and encouragement.